Tag Archives: creativity

Looking for a Purpose? Start trading your talents

There was a time in my life soon after college when I was obsessed with the Will of God for my life. I mean obsessed. I would think about it all the time. I had convinced myself that my life had one purpose; that that purpose was my only path to happiness; and that the Christian God knew exactly what that purpose was, while I did not.

I had to figure it out. My life depended on it.

I was at the time, trying to make it as a professional dancer, and I dearly wanted some confirmation that I was doing the right thing.

I prayed. I asked other people to pray for me. I read the Bible constantly—even on the subway en route to dance class—searching for signs. Nothing. I was so curdled with anxiety, I could barely eat. Finally, I met with a pastor I didn’t know. After I explained my concerns he said: “Sounds like you’ve been working hard on God. Why don’t you let God work on you.”

It was a light bulb moment. I dropped everything—my belief, my faith, my rituals, my religious community. I said to myself: “Whatever comes back to me is mine.”

I walked in the woods. I did yoga. I danced. I ate. I spent time with friends. I did what made me feel good and nourished. As I did, it became perfectly clear: not only had I completely misunderstood what the Will of God is, I had been looking for it in all the wrong places, in all the wrong ways.

One of the items that came back to me was the Parable of the Talents (as told in Mark 25:14-30). I had never liked this parable. In fact, I hated it. When I first heard it, I was appalled. I was about 12 years old. As the master handed out talents to his servants, and told them to take care of these talents while he was gone, I felt sure I knew which servant had chosen the right path. My Dad had instilled in me a fierce appreciation for saving all of my allowance, and I did, every week. I knew that the servant who kept the money safe by burying it in the ground—rather than risking it by trade it in the market place—would be rewarded. When Jesus got to the punch line, I was aghast. The master rewarded the risk takers and punished the one who had saved. What do you mean it is wrong to save?

Nevertheless, in the months after I let go of my faith, this story came back to me. What interested me about it was not the “talent” per se – and whether it was actually money, or metaphorically a gift or ability—but the movement, the relationships, and the master’s response.

The two servants who were rewarded traded their talents. They went out into the market place; they found something that someone did not want; they bought it, and then sold it to someone who did want it, for a higher price. In other words, the servants moved their talents. They circulated them. When the master rewarded them, he gave them more of what they had just earned themselves. I began to think of my purpose as a talent in at least three ways.

For one, the value of a talent is not predetermined. It is something whose value you do not know until you do something with it—trade it. Give it away. Receive something back. Give that away. Receive something back. The value of the talent appears through a rhythm of giving and receiving; each time the talent comes back to its caretaker more developed. Each time it reveals more of what it has the potential to be.

Second, a talent creates relationships. It is not something you have just for yourself; not something whose value you can discover by gazing at it—or burying it. A talent reveals its potential when it moves people: it moves the servant to trade, and her trading partners to respond. As a talent moves from one person to another, it creates connections—where one person wants what the other has to give—and by means of these connections it doubles its value.

Third, and related, in creating these relationships, the talent is a source of guidance. For any given talent, not everyone will want it. Not everyone will buy it. The talent determines which kind of exchanges a person can make—it is enough? It determines what kinds of relationships—is it fair? While the parable does not assess the quality of the servants’ exchanges, we assume they were fair. By moving their talents, the servants created relationships between people that were, or at least could have been, mutually beneficial.

My understanding of God’s Will flipped completely. Any purpose for my life was not some judgment on my head; nor was it a key to a stress-free existence. It wasn’t some hidden secret I had to track down.

Any purpose was like a talent: It was a potential in me for thinking, feeling and acting whose value I could not know in advance—a potential whose value I had to discover by giving it away, and using it to create mutually enabling relationships with other people.

That was different.

In this light, it was absurdly clear. Of course my desire to dance was a talent. No question. How dare I bury it! Calling it a talent did not mean that I was good at it—I wasn’t. Nor was it a guarantee of what would come of it—I wasn’t about to make the New York City Ballet. All it meant was that that desire for dance was a balled-up knot of sensory awareness whose value it was my job to discover through a rhythm of giving and receiving in relation to others. I had to trade it.

In other words, I had to move. I had to move—in dance classes, in auditions, in rehearsals, in my own living room. I had to give what I had whatever it was and see what came back. Such movements would create the relationships with teachers and dancers and myself that over time, would help me discern what more I had to trade.

The story that had once punched me in the gut, now lifted me up with hope and joy. I could move differently. I had permission to move differently. I had permission to pay attention to what feels good to me, right to me. I had permission to dance—I didn’t need permission to dance. The gift had already been given. Permission was internal to the gift. And so was responsibility.

I began to follow my desire to dance, letting it lead me in giving and receiving, creating and becoming, myself in relation to others. Sure enough, my path unfolded.

As it did, I began to understand dance itself in new ways—as a capacity given to all humans, and not just me. Dancing is not just about learning steps and mastering tricks. Dancing, as I know and practice, is about learning to pay attention to the movements you are making, and to how these movements are making you.

Some movements hurt. If you keep making them, you will be injured. Some movements are difficult, but get easier over time. Some movements feel awkward and unbalanced, but soon develop greater strength in you. To dance is to cultivate a sensory awareness that can guide you not only in moving with clarity, grace, efficiency, and strength—but also in finding movements to make that express the care and attention required to find them; movements that connect with others in mutually beneficial ways; movements that make love real.

Whatever your faith, and whether you have one or not, every movement you make in your life is a prayer. Every movement you make in your life makes your God real.

Every movement is an invitation to the energy of life to flow into the pattern of precise neuro-muscular coordination required to make that movement. Every movement is an invitation to perceive and receive sensations along this stretch of effort—to open and grow in one direction and not another.

Thus every movement you make participates in the ongoing act of creation—it creates you and your relationship to your own bodily self. How are you moving in relationship to yourself? Gentle or harsh, tender or tough, enabling or repressive? Angry or judgmental or supportive or kind?

For me, one message of the Parable of the Talents is that the movements we make in relation to ourselves come back to us in time as characterizing the relationship we have created with the universe. The servant who buried his talents in fear of judgment, made God into a fearful judge. The servants who embraced and traded their talents made God into a beneficent source of enduring well being. The movement that we practice in relation to our own talents—the care and attention we devote to them, the sensory awareness we cultivate of them—are what make the holy real for us. They are what make our purpose real for us.

With every movement we create the world as we then know it.

The question to ask, then, is not “what is my purpose?” but “what do I have to trade?” You’ll find out.

From Psychology Today

 

Dancing in the Face of Death

I traveled to Philadelphia at the end of March and had the pleasure of attending a studio showing by the Kun-Yang Lin Dancers of an excerpt from their latest piece, “Santuario.”

I was deeply moved! The experience reminded me of how powerful dance can be in the face of senseless tragedy. The piece was inspired by the shootings at the Pulse nightclub and gay bar in Orlando, Florida.

You can find my post here:

Dancing in the Face of Death

The KYL/D company will be performing the full piece as part of their concert on April 27, 28, 29, 2017, at the Prince Theater.  For more information: http://www.kyld.org

I encourage you to attend!

Why DO Humans Dance?

Why DO humans dance?

You might think it’s an easy question to answer. It isn’t. Not for me. It took a whole book! Seven chapters!

Yet it is also true that themes of those chapters spiral around one another, forming a thick cord that, I am hoping, different people can grasp in different places, wherever it comes closest to where they are.

So then, why do humans dance?

A good first step is to clarify the terms of the question. What is “dance” anyway? Why we do it depends on what “it” is.

I define dance as an emergent phenomenon, one that is rooted in the movement of our bodily selves.

We humans are movement. We are the movement that is making us able to think and feel and act at all. Sometimes the movement that we are erupts in a spontaneous burst and assumes a new pattern.

We may be walking down the street and a passing sensation streaks through our bodily selves, producing a small hop, a shift in weight, a skip forward. Or we are walking along the ocean’s edge, suddenly propelled by the felt force of the crashing waves to spin and stretch along with them.

In such moments, dance emerges. It is tossed up within the restive currents of movement that we are, taking shape as a new pattern of sensory awareness that changes us. We are now the person who made that move. When such an impulse courses through us, it relates us to ourselves and our worlds in a new way. It aligns. It touches. It frees. It is dance.

While such emergences may be spontaneous, we can also practice opening ourselves up to receiving them. We can practice noticing and recreating movement patterns that appear to us—movements organized into a technique, a style, a form—so as to heighten our vulnerability to such animating bursts. Whatever movements we practice–in any realm–will encourage us to make further movements in the directions they define.

In this case, the movement patterns that we are practicing serve as invitations to deepen our sensation of movement. The movements we practice invite us to move with greater ease, facility, and dynamic delivery in the patterns they represent. They invite us to receive sponteous bursts of energy in line with the trajectories they open. This too, is dance.

Returning to the initial question, this definition of dance points towards a circular answer. Humans dance because dance is human. Dance is not an accidental or supplemental activity in which humans choose to engage or not. Dance is essential to our survival as human beings.

Without the barest ability to notice, recreate, and become patterns of movement, without the ability to invite impulses to move, humans would not be able to learn how to sense and respond to the sources of their wellbeing—to people, to nourishment, to ideas, to environments. Dancing is essential to the rhythm of bodily becoming by which human persons become whomever they are.

The implications are many and far reaching.

For one, dance is in everyone. There is no escape from it. You can’t say that you can’t, don’t, didn’t or won’t. The only question is how. How are you dancing? How are you going to dance? Under what influences? With what inspiration? Beholden to what impediments? In response to what goals, goads, and gods? Or maybe there is a second question—why, as in: Why have you stopped?

A second implication is that “dance,” as a term, has no content. It is not inherently anything—neither good nor bad; helpful nor harmful. There is no paradigmatic technique or form. There is no “essence” of dance, and no one way in which dance appears as dance to everyone everywhere.

At the same time, however, this way of thinking about dance affords ample resources for understanding the significance and efficacy of any movement patterns that do appear to someone somewhere as “dance.”

Any dance tradition or technique, any set of exercises or training regimes, represents a collection of movement impulses that a given person or group of people have received, recreated, and remembered.

Any dance tradition or technique represents movement patterns that those persons have found useful for connecting them to something they perceive as having value—whether tribe or tradition, pleasure or skill, community or divinity, heaven or Earth. Dance as movement is inherently relational.

Moreover, this understanding of dance as human also provides us with ways of evaluating whether and how a given technique or tradition is helping people learn to move in life-enabling ways. As we create and become these patterns of prescribed movement, what ranges of thought, feeling, and action are we drawing into reality? What sensitivities and sensibilities are we honing? What kind of relationships are we manifesting with ourselves, with others, and with the earth?

So then.

Why do humans dance? We dance because we can. Because dance is who we are. Because dance is what our bodily selves do. Because dance is how we become who we have the potential or desire or need to be.

Must we dance? In so far as we have any life at all, we are moving. At some level, in some range, however narrow, we are creating and becoming the patterns of sensation and response that our movements require. Whether or not we practice is up to us. We need not cultivate an ability to receive impulses to move that align our bodily selves with the opportunities of the moment. But we can.

Should we dance? That is a question each person needs to ask his or her self. And the first step in forming an answer is to ask: what is dance to you? What is it that you do everyday that brings your senses to life? What is it that wakes you up to the sources of your creativity and compassion? Your new ideas? Your joy?

Whatever it is, there is a dance in it. Whatever it is there are patterns of movement—of sensing and responding—that open you to the enabling sources of your own bodily becoming. Whatever it is, do it.

Once you can see the dance in yourself and what you do, you may be inspired to do more—to seek out further opportunities to see and sense and be moved by patterns of movement that other humans have discovered. Go for it!

Humans can dance anywhere, for any reason, with whatever meaning we choose. The fact that humans can is what matters. The fact that we do is what enlivens us. The fact that we can do more is what gives me hope for this species and our planet.

Never Stop Creating

“Never stop creating… never stop creating…” Jordan was singing—making up his own song and repeating the same words to the same tune over and over again. I smiled. We were in the car, driving away from our familiar, friendly urban home of thirteen years, and towards the great unknown wildness of a rural farm we were scheduled to buy later that day. It was a place that Geoff and I believed would release our artistic spirits in new and nurturing directions. And my nine-year-old son was singing, “Never stop creating.” He got it.

Aside from the fact that the song lacked much variation—or maybe because of it—the phrase stuck. None of us could forget it. It became one of our farm family mantras—three precious words that we pulled out of our pockets to hurl at challenges that arose as we wrestled livable spaces from the farmhouse, beat back the weeds, and learned to live in constant proximity with one another. Alone, together, in a new place, we had to be creative—not just in the work of making art, but in the moment to moment living of our lives.

Soon after, Geoff and I began to realize that the creativity that mattered most to our respective artistic projects wasn’t the practice of technique or the direct shaping of a piece—although both were important. What mattered most was a more fundamental creativity—the art of staying open to the possibilities of every moment regardless of what we are doing; of making new moves in relation to the most basic tasks of every day, and of living lives that could and would erupt in new work.

*

What is creativity? It is easy to link it with artistic ability, and assume that some people are creative while others are not. In this view, those who are creative make, design, and produce things that occupy the realm of the senses. They use imagination to conceive of forms they then realize in works of art. Or so we believe.

What if creativity is not so cerebral? Not so mental? Not so intentional? What if creativity happens every minute of every day, in the movements of our sensory, bodily selves?

In this view, every human is and must be creative in order simply to survive. In every moment of life, who we are, where we are, with whom we are, and what we are given are unique. In every moment, we need to be able to receive an impulse to move that will take shape as the thought or feeling or action that our participation in the moment demands. What if creativity is a capacity to move differently than we have before?

How am I going to respond when my kids miss the bus? When the stew bubbles? When I stub my toe? What am I going to think, feel, or say when my child has a bad day? When the oxen get loose? When my friend is depressed?

In this sense creativity is not only the fact of movement or even the ability to move, but the ability to recognize and receive and follow through with a new movement—whether one is shaking a potent spice or answering a question; sketching a scene or stretching a resistant mozzarella; juxtaposing words or planting the garden.

Sure I can draw on past experience to guide my actions and predict their impact. I can mobilize patterns of response that have worked in other situations in the past. I can recalibrate old patterns to meet new challenges. I can follow the example of history and tradition. At the same time, I can also hold these possibilities aloft, open to the singular nexus of reality in that moment, and find a new way through. I can remember that every moment packs an opportunity to create myself anew.

There are persons who choose to cultivate this creative potential in a particular medium as the focus and source of their life’s activity. Such people may indeed become artists or inventors, sculptors or dancers, poets or engineers. Yet their basic activity remains the same, common to every human alive: sensing and responding to what is given; finding play in the moment; and receiving and following through with impulses to move.

Creativity, in this sense, courses through the heart of human becoming, churning its way though our bodily selves, carving us into channels of movement potential. Every move we make erupts from the last, builds us in the present, and opens us to the future. We exist as a bundle of branching possibilities in relation to the realms of interaction we inhabit. Creativity is not a mystery. It is not a gift given or withheld by a power beyond us. Creativity is who we are.

*

Never stop creating. On the eve of 2015, our farm family mantra echoes through me, as a good one to remember. Why? Because it reframes the age-old process of setting goals and making resolutions as an expression of this fundamental human creativity.

Never stop creating. What does it mean? Never stop imagining what is possible. Never stop affirming your desire to make it real. Never stop finding the freedom to respond in line with what you know you want.  Never stop seeking to make love real.

It means: don’t shy from what you can imagine. Set your goals! Dream your dreams! Go for them! Just don’t be bound by them. Don’t be judged by them. Hold them loosely, gently, knowing they are expressions of your own hope and desire—knowing that they maps for opening channels of energy you want to manifest in yourself.

“Never stop creating” means that this process of imagining what can be is not a question of muscling the mastery to overcome your failings. It is a question of giving yourself permission to experience the ever-present stream of creativity at work in you.

As you set out for your goals, you may not end up where you thought you wanted to go, but that is not the point. In the process you will learn who you have become. What patterns of sensing and responding—of anger or fear, shame or anxiety—have you created in the past? What desires have you picked up from others that are not actually relevant to you? What do you want even more than what you thought you wanted?

Sometimes we find that our goals are too small. Sometimes too large. Sometimes skewed to the side. Sometimes backwards. Regardless, we have gotten what the act of setting goals has to give: effective, visceral knowledge of how to make a better move.

*

It is easy to forget this fundamental creativity. It is easy to imagine that we must sense and respond to what is given in the ways we are told, or have in the past. It is easy to believe that we cannot change, that we won’t change, and even that we don’t want to change.

However, we can help ourselves remember. We can feed our fundamental creativity. We can by finding one thing to do very day that reminds us—one tiny, low-impact, non-stressful act of explicit creating that allows us to stop, listen, sense, receive, and respond.

*

During December I decided to make paper snowflakes to mark the days of advent. Each evening, I would take a piece of white paper, fold it in half, in thirds, and then in half again. With a pair of scissors, I would slice away small shapes—triangles and arcs, amoebas and dots. I cut carefully and carelessly. The stakes were low. It was only a snowflake. It took minutes and cost little.

Yet every day, when I unfolded the snowflake, a small gasp escaped me. Something never seen before emerged before me. I taped it to the wall, and the next day did the same, one by one, making a huge snowflake swirl. Every day, the snowflake spiral grabbed my gaze at least once and often several times, reminding me of the creativity that is endlessly flowing within, waiting to be given paper and scissors. Pen and ink. Time and space. Heart, mind and bodily self.

It may seem silly, until you try it. Fold the napkins differently. Hum a tune while you work. Step first with your opposite foot. Put your bag on the other shoulder. Alter your shower routine. Set your pillow in a different place. Try a new spice. Look in a new direction. Make a snowflake.

Remind yourself. You have permission to keep becoming who you can imagine you want to be.

Never stop creating.